Lexi Bainas / Cowichan Valley Citizen
August 23, 2013
Fury, legal action and a call for financial help in fighting the government followed an announcement by the Ministry of Environment (MoE) Aug. 21 that South Island Aggregates will be allowed to dump dirty dirt in the Shawnigan watershed.
Leading the charge with appeals are the Shawnigan Residents Association (SRA) and the Cowichan Valley Regional District (CVRD).
Both groups announced Wednesday that they are launching appeals; both are asking that the decision be overturned and that a stay in the granting of the permit be issued.
A statement from CVRD board of directors chair Rob Hutchins said, "The Shawnigan Lake Watershed is the source of drinking water for more than 7,000 people. I am extremely disappointed in this decision by the MoE for potentially putting the community and the environment at risk. The CVRD opposes this permit and believes the Ministry has not considered the substantial public comment and opinion opposed to the issuance of this permit."
Jason Walker, SRA spokesman, said his group was "not shocked but profoundly disappointed". Given that there is only a small window for starting an appeal, the residents association has hit the ground running.
"Our lawyer today has moved forward with notice of appeal to the Environmental Appeal Board," Walker said.
As well, we will be applying for a stay to ensure that soil is not dropped into our watershed until the matter is heard before the board," he said.
"We have 30 days and that's why the SRA decided to engage legal counsel ahead of time. Our research is done, our appeal is ready to go," he said. "Now, we need the public's help. This is a very expensive process and the burden of it is on the backs of the people of Shawnigan Lake."
Walker urged the public to step up with legal fund donations.
"Visit our website: thesra. ca. We believe in liveable, drinkable, swimmable water as a fundamental right for everybody.
"Having a contaminated soil dump in our drinking watershed is not a decision that helps families in Shawnigan Lake and it's also an imminent threat to our economy. This is a money grab by a big gravel company and it's not right," Walker said.
Bruce Fraser, regional area director for Shawnigan Lake, said he thought the decision was made months ago.
"All the MoE has been doing is adding conditions to the permit to sweeten the pot," he said.
Fraser said he is frustrated that the entire approval process swings around technical issues, sidestepping the concerns of local people.
"It's engineers talking to engineers, hydrologists, geologists. And they all say 'Oh yeah, it's technically feasible. We can reduce the potential risks down to potentially acceptable levels.' Except that acceptable to us is quite a different matter than what's acceptable to them."
To Fraser, as to many others, there is only one issue: "there is no technical justification for putting a contaminated soil facility in the headwaters of the community drinking supply." The impression of business-as-usual given by this permit approval doesn't bode well for other dumping applications in the future, he said.
What is particularly galling to the regional director is what he called the "unbelievable cynicism" of announcing the permit "in the dog days of summer when vast numbers of people are on holiday and most local governments are stood down for holidays."
Fraser said that, although the permit claims that such a decision is not made in the political arena, the time is coming soon when provincial politicians must be ready to step up.
"Senior government should have the wit to understand that it is goring an entire community and that, in our democracy, that should be seen to be illegitimate," he said.
South Island Aggregates said in a release Wednesday "the company is pleased it now has approval to treat and landfill waste soil at its Stebbings Road facility," saying it follows "rigorous environmental and technical assessment" over two years by SIA, demonstrating that the process is safe. SIA president Michael Kelly said his group appreciated the feedback and comments received from the public and other stakeholders.
"[We] have incorporated this feedback into our final design and monitoring program," he said.
This monitoring is now included in the permit, accompanied by a notice that states, "considering the high level of interest shown from the agencies, the public and interest groups" that SIA is obligated to disclose publicly the results of its monitoring.
The approval statement from the province said that, although concerns were raised by the public about effects on the watershed, "the final decision was based on the technical merits of the proposal."
In addition, the MoE included other strictures, telling SIA to treat discharge water to provincial drinking water standards, take extra samples and bring in an environmental management system to document onsite activities.
Finally, the permit said, "the Ministry worked with the Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA) and SIA to ensure concerns around air and water quality were satisfied."